more fan-hitting

Sun Oct 12 05:27:59 UTC 2008

Since Gerald hasn't answered yet, I'll provide the version I know.  The joke isn't very commonly told, considering there are so many references to it.  It goes back at least to World War II and is probably older, though it obviously cannot predate the widespread use of electric fans.
Our tale is set in a restaurant, an old-fashioned establishment by contemporary standards, where there is no air conditioning but the patrons manage a degree of comfort in the summer heat through the consumption of copious amounts of lemonade and iced tea and from the ceiling fans turning overhead.  On a particularly hot day, when the iced tea was particularly in demand and the fans were set to their maximum speed, a traveler stopped in the restaurant for lunch.  In the midst of his meal, however, he suddenly realized that he needed a restroom, and quickly.  Looking around the restaurant, he saw none, but there was a stairway going upstairs, and that seemed a promising place to search.  When he got upstairs, however, there was still no restroom, and searching further was not an option.  He did see a small hole in the floor, and in desperation he relieved himself there.  
Attempting to regain some degree of self-possession, he then sauntered back downstairs, hoping that no one from the restaurant staff would be going upstairs and looking at the hole for at least the next few minutes.  When he got back downstairs, though, he found the restaurant entirely empty, with every evidence of a hurried exodus.  Steppping outside himself, he recognized one of the other customers and asked him, "What happened?  How come everyone left the restaurant all of a sudden?"  
The other man just looked at him and asked, "Where were you when the shit hit the fan?"
John Baker


From: American Dialect Society on behalf of Laurence Horn
Sent: Sat 10/11/2008 10:51 PM
Subject: Re: more fan-hitting

At 8:55 PM -0500 10/11/08, Cohen, Gerald Leonard wrote:
>Hi Wilson,
>   It's not based on a pun but on a scatalogical joke, where the
>stuff really did hit the fan.  I treated this topic in Comments on
>Etymology, vol. 20, no. 8, May 1991, p. 12.  I'll mail you a copy on

Ah, but other inquiring minds want to know.  Couldn't you summarize
the scatological joke in this forum?


The American Dialect Society -

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